School Board Discusses Bus Buying Options and Turn Around Plan for Enge campus
Though many items were listed on the agenda for the regularly scheduled School Board Meeting on January 22, a majority of meeting time was split between the discussion on what type to buses to buy with the allotted bond money, and review of the Turn Around Plan (TAP) and resolution for Enge-Washington.
Buses with or without Seat Belts
The meeting was called to order at 6:34 pm with all members present, and Liz Carter, HEAD OF TRANSPORTATION addressed the board. Three representatives, each from a different school bus manufacturing companies, were able to bring buses to Groesbeck before the meeting began so board members could walk through and sit in the different models before deciding on the best option for purchase. Those representatives, Rick Brownlow with Longhorn Bus Sales, LLC, Mike Murphy with Thomas Bus Gulf Coast and Craig Horinka with Rush Bus Centers (Selma/Blue Bird) sat in on the meeting and actively answered questions about the pros and cons of buying buses with seat belts.
Because this is the first year Texas is requiring new buses to come equipped with seatbelts, there is very little data to use when comparing the safety of students on buses with and without seat belts in worst-case scenarios. The only other states that require seat belts on buses at this time are New York and California.
When making the decision on buying buses without seat belts, a change of cost regarding insurance is uncertain. GISD is insured by Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), and they have not yet released a stance on insuring buses without seat belts, but they advise discussion with lawyers.
Liability also comes into play, causing drivers to worry who will be held accountable should an accident occur if students are not wearing seat belts on their bus, as ensuring each student wore the seat belt for the entire route would be very challenging. Buying buses with seat belts would mean training for drivers and students, new policies and enforcement of seat belt use that would fall on, and difficult changes to be made.
“My personal opinion is very guided by 25 years worth of school buses and working in it. I have never had an incident where a student was injured or killed due to a lack of seat belts on a school bus,” Carter said, going on to discuss many scenarios she seen through the years, stressing the ability for students to quickly evacuate the bus in dire situations. “I’ve been very fortunate in the 3 school districts I’ve worked in at, so in my personal opinion, we’re jumping the gun before we know exactly how safe these seat belts can be. It seems to me the media is making it for all the wrong reasons.”
The tragic accidents in the state that ended in death by students and began the law process to require seat belts on buses occurred on charter buses, not on school buses, so incorrect information has influenced the discussion that led to this law change.
It was determined that the board will hold a meeting in the near future and invite the community to come ask questions about bus safety and seat belts as well as voice their opinions regarding whether or not GISD should buy buses with seat belts. Ideally, GISD bus drivers and vendors with different model buses would be present for a well-rounded dialogue. Ultimately, the decision must be made by the board, but should they choose to buy buses without seat belts, proof of the meeting would be required and a letter to the chosen bus manufacturer expressing the decision against belts must be signed.
Dr. James Cowley, acting as an advisor until his duties as Superintendent begins February 1, asked the board to consider white fleet options and brought up the versatility of microbuses instead of suburbans, as they may be used to run routes if necessary, or may be driven by coaches or teachers for trips, as a CDL license is not required to operate the microbus. Carter added that the decision on what to purchase for the white fleet hinges on what kind of money will be available after the yellow fleet is bought.
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